Midtown Building is a 1960s Time Capsule

On Architecture by ROGER COFFEY, AIA

MID-CENTURY MODERN DESIGN: The 1962 building at 3202 E. 21st St. was designed by architect Donald Honn to be his office and was later sold to Dick Schmitz, owner of Irving Productions.

GTR Newspapers photo

The building at 3202 E. 21st St. is one of the best examples of mid-century modern design in Tulsa.

Designed and built in 1962 by architect Donald Honn to be his architectural office, this structure has continuously attracted tenants from the design profession. After occupying it for a few years, Donald Honn built a new 1960s contemporary building on south Harvard and sold this one to Dick Schmitz, owner of Irving Productions.

For a while, Dick leased part of the building to an interior design firm, Sober Logston & Woody but essentially the building for many years became a production/sound studio for Schmitz’s company, Irving Productions. A number of well-known media productions were designed there.

In 2012, Dick Schmitz retired and sold the building to a landscape architect, Dan Alaback. Today, his landscape design firm of seven people occupies 2,800 sq ft of the 4,000 sq ft building. The other 1,200 sq ft is occupied by an architect, Stan Espinoza.

So far, changes to the exterior have been minimal. Dan Alaback explains that the perimeter site needs to make a landscaping statement about his firm’s capability and is a serious work-in-progress. Subtly placed retaining walls raise the building slightly from the adjacent street and parking lot. The exposed steel frame would delight Mies van der Rohe. It has been painted dark brown in contrast to the original white color. The exterior red brick has been cleaned. Otherwise the exterior isa 1960s time capsule.

But the inside is another story. With his wife, interior designer Robin Alaback’s, help, the inside has been transformed.

Once through the glass entrance, you step into a sophisticated “Mad Men” 1960s interior.

The grid of steel columns and roof beams is exposed throughout. Tectum ceilings placed above steel beam framing are typical and have been painted flat black. Although the clear height to the tectum is slightly more than 9 feet, the black visually raises the room’s volume and height. In some areas, wood trellises floating below the steel ceiling beams add extra interest.

The plan behind the initial remodeling was to move walls to the perimeter and open up the interior which then became the studio. Along with an enclosed office, there are five nicely designed U-shaped work stations for the staff. Original hardwood built-ins have been retained and augmented where needed.

At the north end of the building, interior partitions were removed to allow the studio to be flooded with natural light.

The “Mad Men” elegant theme continues throughout with appropriate furnishings, artwork, and accessories. A masterful use of color and materials subtly supports this theme.

Alaback Design has been in business for 31 years. It would be hard to find an area in Tulsa that has not been visited by this firm. Four significant projects are: The Williams Center restoration, the ONEOK Plaza Grounds renovation, the Tulsa Signature Gateway, and the grounds for the Owasso and Broken Arrow St. John’s Hospital.
The high design home Alaback Design has made for itself compliments the work the firm produces.

Updated 04-19-2018

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